Australian climb specialist Ben O’Connor believes Vuelta a Espana leader Remco Evenepoel is the strongest rider in the peloton this year, including Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingaard, he told the AFP during a rest day before the 10th stage on Monday.
Evenepoel, 22, has won 11 races this year, including an impressive performance at the Liège-Bastogne-Liège monument.
Since taking the Vuelta lead on stage six, Evenepoel has topped the general classification in two mountain stages.
Climbing specialist O’Connor finished fourth in the 2021 Tour de France after a magnificent ascent to the alpine ski resort of Tignes.
But on the 2022 edition, the Perthois had to abandon the Tour de France due to injury, before trying to win the Vuelta 2022. The AG2R rider, however, had trouble in Spain.
“It’s been really intense, it’s going off like fireworks and a lot of people are hurting,” said O’Connor who is 13th overall, 5min 33sec behind the increasingly impressive Evenepoel.
“It’s literally a waste of time trying to hold Remco down right now. He’s doing the best of the year, for everyone,” O’Connor told AFP by phone.
“He would be up there fighting with Tadej (Pogacar) and Jonas (Vingegaard),” he said.
“So there’s no point in watching it,” O’Connor said. “The way Remco rides will probably be more than that in the end.”
Tuesday’s Stage 10 is a 30km individual time trial where, on paper, at least Evenepoel should once again punish his GC rivals.
O’Connor felt he still had a chance to win a stage, especially if he managed to join a breakout.
“I think the race won’t be decided until Sierra Nevada and I will try there. Hopefully in the big climbs to come, in the long climbs, maybe I will have a chance to do better. “
“These stages didn’t suit me, the explosive ones, I prefer them when it’s mountains all day,” said the Australian.